BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - The Belgian firm Ablynx NV appointed Torsten Dreir as director of therapeutic development and Simon Kerry as director of business development.

Dreir joins Ablynx from Micromet AG in Munich, Germany, where he was preclinical development director with responsibility for the development of therapeutic antibodies. Kerry previously was vice president of business development at the British firm Isogenica Ltd.

Ablynx, which is based in Zwijnaarde, near Ghent, was established in 2001 as a spin-off from the Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology and is developing a new generation of therapeutic antibodies based on its nanobody technology. Nanobodies are the smallest fragment of naturally occurring single-domain antibodies that have evolved to be fully functional in the absence of a light chain.

According to Ablynx, they combine the advantages of conventional antibodies with those of small-molecule drugs and also have other qualities as drug candidates, such as their small size, unique structure and exceptional stability. The company so far has discovered nanobodies against more than 10 validated human disease targets and plans to develop them in the fields of oncology, inflammation and autoimmunity.

Kerry told BioWorld International that the company's technology was "so good" that it had yielded far more leads than expected and now it had an "embarrassment of riches." It already had selected lead compounds in two areas, cancer and inflammation, and a Phase I clinical trial of one or the other would be launched in 2005, probably in Europe, he said.

Kerry explained that Ablynx had a strong intellectual property position, insofar as it held patents covering not only the composition of the nanobodies but also the identification and production of them. "There is a lot of interest in our technology, both from pharmaceutical companies with targets that are looking for therapeutics and from small biotechnology companies with targets that are interested in working collaboratively with us," he said.

Ablynx has concluded three agreements with industrial partners in recent months, but Kerry, whose responsibilities encompass the negotiation of partnerships with third parties among other things, said he was not authorized to disclose their names. He did say, however, that they were all early stage research collaborations. Further down the road, the company's strategy will be to team up with pharmaceutical companies for the late-stage development and commercialization of nanobody-based therapeutics in its selected disease areas.

Ablynx completed an initial funding round just over a year ago, in which it raised €5 million from a group of three venture capital funds - GIMV, of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Sofinnova Partners, of Paris; and Gilde Investment Management, of Haarlem, the Netherlands. Earlier this year, moreover, it was awarded a two-year grant of €2.4 million by the Belgian government to finance its ongoing therapeutic antibody programs.

Kerry said the company has sufficient funding to take it well into 2004, but is planning another funding round before the end of this year.